Saturday, January 11, 2020

Going down the only road I've ever known

Here I go again. 

It's that time of year - the time where you get the yearly reminder that you're over-paying for your broadband, but if you just pay a year in advance, you can save yourself 20 quid a year on line rental for a phone you don't use.

Because it's 2020 now, I've had the same mobile number for over a decade, and my last landline phone stopped working because I used it so rarely the battery broke.

What better way to waste a few hours than idly clicking through your current internet provider's website, seeing just how expensive your current deal is, compared to the offers for new customers.  It's one of my favourite pastimes.

Oh Plusnet, how could you get it so wrong...

So, I'm currently paying the grand sum of £20.99 a month for my broadband (Unlimited Fibre Extra, which is basically 60Mb down, 15Mb up give or take). On top of that, I'm paying the line rental, which on the saver plan is around £18 quid a month, rising to £20 a month when my yearly deal runs out.

Let's do the math here - that's 41 quid a month. Not cheap. Not ridiculous (especially compared to other countries) but it's over the 40 quid mark, so close to 500 quid a year for broadband.

Plusnet have, to their credit, provided a pretty solid service since I've been with them - nearly two years since the BT switcheroo debacle. Internet is normally working, normally hits the speeds they advertise, and has decent latency etc.

But still - it's 41 quid! Let's see what new customers get these days, shall we?

If I were a new customer, I'd get the same package (broadband and line rental, which is now included pretty much everywhere) for £27 a month (actually £26.99, but I'm going to round up for clarity's sake). 14 pounds a month cheaper. Of course, the downside is the contract length - 18 months. Wonderful if you never plan on moving house or provider. Terrible for everyone else, and that instantly gives me pause *but* (and here's the big stickler) - this is for new customers only.

So, before I start the "I'm paying too much" dance with customer support, I take a few minutes to check out the alternatives.

BT - slightly pricier. 50Mb down for £30 a month, 67 Mb down for 35 quid a month. 24 month contract (what the hell, I mean seriously - I've had numerous relationships and jobs that didn't last 24 months). Price is still cheaper than my current, but that contract is faaaaar too long. Plus, BT really pissed me off last time I was with them (and the time before that, and the time before that). Hard pass.

Zen - £30 a month for 35Mb down, £35 a month for 66Mb down. 12 month contract. That's looking a a lot better. I used to have Zen dialup back in the day, and they were excellent.

Who else is an option? Talk Talk is out, as everyone I've ever spoken to who used them really didn't value the experience. Sky is an option - £27 a month, 18 month contract. So is Vodafone - £23 a month, 18 month contract.

The list goes on. EE. Shell. Origin. Even John Lewis provide broadband these days. All for at least 5 quid a month less than my current price.

This quite clearly shows that I'm overpaying for t'internet.

Then I have another dig on the Plusnet site, and wonder of wonders - there's a price quoted on my current package, clearly stating "out of contract price - £13.00 a month".

£13 a month? but I'm paying £21 (plus line rental)!

It's time to play the "contact customer service" game. I pop a quick chat message to the effect of "Why am I paying 21 when I should be paying 13" and wait.

"Oh, I can see you're overpaying" says the first customer rep. "Let's get you over to our options team, who can surely get that price reduced with a new contract ..."

Er, no. I don't want a new contract. I don't want lockin. I want the price you're showing on your website, which says "out of contract price".

I then get passed to the customer options team, who tell me in no uncertain terms that this price is a website glitch.

When I say that I find that hard to believe, the chat is unceremoniously ended (to be fair I did pop to the loo for a minute, but still).

A little more back and forth, and I'm told:
The price shown would be if I entered a new contract (even though it says "out of contract")
The price shown would be if I completed the order I'm currently processing (I'm not trying to order anything)
The price shown would be what I paid if I just pressed the button next to the price (which says "no change! you continue with your plan")

Computer says no.

And we've been here before, haven't we? Oh yes, we've been down this lonely road a few times.

The correct way to deal with this

Here's a lesson in customer service, for any interested readers.

If your website shows a price, and you think it might be wrong, honour it. And then go fix whatever is wrong in your backend.

Don't fucking argue with the customer.
Don't tell them that they're wrong, can't do math, and don't understand their monthly charges.
Don't try and persuade them to sign up to a new 18 month contract that's more expensive than a new customer gets.

Just honour the price, and if it's a mistake, fix the problem at your end.

Just to be clear - at £13 a month, I'm still paying more than your competitors when line rental is included (£33), and I'm still paying more than your new customer deal-of-the-day.

I'm not asking for a pot of fucking gold - I'm just asking for the price you show to be the price I pay, and for that price to not be 25%+ more expensive than your competitors.

I ain't wastin no more time

I've got a few more weeks on my current line rental saver plan, and then I'll be heading off to greener pastures. Thanks, Plusnet, for the total lack of effort on your part regarding customer retention. Yet another abject lesson in how to not win friends and influence people.

Brand loyalty

But this circles back to the much bigger issue - which is the whole concept of brand loyalty, and service inertia. Some folks stick with a brand because they like the product. Most folks stick with a brand because it's a recognisable "thing" in their catalogue of "things", and (especially if they're in contract) it's a pain in the arse to change. Switching your cornflakes is hard enough - switching your car insurance, power provider, or broadband is far too much mental effort for most folks (myself included, although I'm working on this).

Branding works, and contracts designed for customer retention through inertia work too. Humans are fragile meat sacks, and constantly hunting for the optimal choice in the tech tree of life is exhausting work. Ain't nobody got time for that, right?

Except, I do have some brands I'm loyal to - and that's because they've done me a solid. As a tangible example, Sonos replaced my six year old, £500 speaker when it broke, no questions asked. That's customer service. I will honour that effort with brand loyalty, because they have earned it. 

The rest of you, who use branding and human nature to retain and overcharge your customers? You can all go suck a lemon, because at some point, your business will wither and die on the vine, while your competitors (who do actually value a customer's investment) reap the rewards.

I could probably write a book on my frustration with those that rely on quirks of primate behaviour to drive their business models, but at least I'm aware of how it works - there's a lot of people out there who are simply oblivious to this stuff.

The upshot of all of this, though, is that I have to go hoop jumping to get a decent goddamn deal, and I'm getting tired of that. So very tired. I keep searching for an answer, but I never seem to find what I'm looking for. 

Enough ranting - time to listen to some Whitesnake ;)